The programme to immunise girls against the Humanpapillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer was officially launched today.
Starting this month, the vaccine which protects against the two strains of the virus that cause around 70% of cervical cancer cases will be routinely offered to girls aged 12-13 in schools across Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the launch of the programme in St Joseph’s College, Belfast, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “Cervical cancer kills around 40 women every year in Northern Ireland and touches the lives of many more. The HPV vaccine is a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer and will help prevent young women from developing a potentially deadly disease.
“Girls aged 12-13 will be offered the vaccine this autumn, while a catch-up programme will make the vaccine available to girls aged 13-18 over the next three years. Health and Social Care Trusts across Northern Ireland will work with their local education authorities and schools to implement the programme. Parents will shortly be receiving, if they have not already, information about when the vaccination programme will commence in their child's school.
"Ultimately this vaccination programme is about saving lives and preventing the suffering, distress and anxiety caused by cancer. I would encourage all parents to give consent for their child to have the vaccine. However, if they do have any concerns they can speak to the school health team or their GP.”
In addition to the routine programme, girls aged 17 – 18 (those born between 2 July 1990 and 1 July 1991) will also be able to receive the vaccine through their GP surgery from September 2008. These girls would have otherwise been excluded from the HPV programme, as the school based ‘catch up’ programme aimed at older girls up to the age of 18, will not commence until September 2009.